Robin Hood’s Bay

4.45 p.m., Friday, 5th October.

We had a couple of nights at the Raven Hall Hotel, Ravenscar, earlier this month. This is the view through the fanlight window of our third floor room, room 303, which is the one up in the pediment of the Georgian facade, looking out across Robin Hood’s Bay.

Grey Seals

4 p.m., Wednesday, 4th October: From the ramparts of the cliff-top gardens of the hotel, we had some difficulty spotting the seals below because, from six hundred feet above the grey sea, it was the similar-looking bobbing knots of seaweed and diving sea-birds that caught our eyes.

But we did see one grey seal which appeared to be relaxing, floating on its back, while another seal bobbed up its head nearby . . . or was that another knot of seaweed?

At the time that it was built, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Raven Hall overlooked a scene of industry; we looked down over the hotel’s golf course to the preserved ruins of an Alum Works that stood on the cliff top.

Bay Ness

5 p.m., Wednesday, 4th October: The promontory of Bay Ness, beyond Robin Hood’s Bay village, vanished as the mist rolled down the slope and out across the headland.

Next day, in complete contrast, we sat out in the sun at Swell’s Café in Robin Hood’s Bay village. As I drew the cliffs of Ness Point, the tide came in surprisingly quickly, covering the black rocks that I’d been drawing before I could add a watercolour wash. Six or seven holidaymakers and dog-walkers were caught out and had to pick their way over the sea defence boulders to get back to the village from the cut-off bay.

Hackness Valley

The sides of the Hackness Valley, which I drew from the Everley Country House Café, are topped with conifer plantations, with broadleaved hedgerows and sheep pasture on the slopes below. The flat valley floor is given over the arable farming.

The land use corresponds to the underlying rock: the conifers are planted on poor soils on the steep upper slopes of Jurassic gritstone while the gentler lower slopes and the flat valley floor have been cut into the underlying Oxford Clay.


Raven Hall Country House Hotel

Swell Café Bar, Gift Shop, Robin Hood’s Bay

Everley Country House Café

The Beach House

The Beach House

PortobelloPortobello, ‘Edinburgh’s Seaside’, looks rather dour and solid as you drive through on the Musselburgh Road, but walk along the two mile promenade and there are views across the Firth of Forth and along the East Lothian coast. In my watercolour the conical hill just left of centre is North Berwick Law with Traprain Law inland on the far right.

postcardI drew this while waiting for the breakfast special, toasted banana bread with whipped mascarpone and berries, at The Beach House: the perfect place to write our postcards. This  postcard, from a watercolour by one of the customers, captures the relaxed atmosphere of the cafe and the light reflected from the sea.

Link: The Beach House Cafe

Seabird Centre


North Berwick Harbour
North Berwick Harbour

I draw Craigleith, the bird island three quarters of a mile to the north of North Berwick from the rocky promontory at the end of the harbour. I’m waiting for the catamaran to return from its lunchtime trip around the Bass Rock because on this morning’s trip I dropped my lens cap. Luckily when the boat returns, the crew have spotted it; they say that I’ll find it listed on eBay!

Bass Rock from the catamaranIn the Scottish Seabird Centre you can watch the seabirds by operating remote control webcams overlooking colonies on Craigleith, Fidra, the Bass Rock and the Isle of May.

plaiceI can’t see many fish in the large salt water aquarium in the Centre, not until it’s feeding time. Three plaice rise up from what looked like a vacant patch of sand; they’d been there in front of me for the last ten minutes and I’d never spotted them.

wrasseLike the freshwater stickleback, the male corkwing wrasse builds a nest, persuades the female to lay her eggs in it and then guards and tends the eggs until they hatch. In my sketch I’ve missed two key features of this wrasse: a dark patch behind the eye and a black spot on the tail.

scorpion fishThe long-spined stickleback or scorpion fish is well-camouflaged as it rests amongst rocks and seaweeds.

Link: Scottish Seabird Centre webcams


Bass Rock

  • Bass Rock

I go for the seat at the edge of the boat on our seabird cruise around the Bass Rock because I want to try out my new telephoto lens but as the catamaran picks up speed on the way there I have to hastily put my non-waterproof Olympus OM-D E-M10II under my coat and revert to the Olympus Tough, but all the sea birds were photographed with the Olympus, with its 40-150mm zoom lens.

Trying to catch gannets in flight was tricky with the limited field of view that you get with a telephoto especially as the boat was bobbing up and down but by cropping in to some of the photographs I’ve been able to get a few close ups. The built in five-way image stabilisation has worked well, even in these challenging conditions.

Seabird Cities



Quarter of a million seabirds nest at Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve. Each species has a preference for a particular niche on the cliff.

The ledges are bedding planes in the chalk. Vertical joints break the cliff face up into blocky units. In my photograph (above) the block that the herring gull is nesting on looks as if it’s well on its way to becoming detached from the cliff face.

There’s an eye-wateringly stiff breeze this morning so this is a challenging place to try out my new telephoto lens. Although I’ve mounted the camera on a monopod/walking pole it’s still getting buffeted around so I leave the image stabilisation switched on.



puffinsPuffins are  the stars of the show at the reserve but one of the wardens is having difficulty pointing them out as they keep flying off.

I get a distant view of a pair checking out a crevice at the top of the cliff. At Bempton puffins nest in crevices rather than in rabbit burrows.




razorbillsAlso near the top of the cliff, this razorbill’s mate looks as if it too is considering nesting in a crevice but you’re more likely to see them nesting on the smaller upper ledges.

In an adaptation to nesting on cliff ledges, the razorbill’s egg is tapered at one end so that, if knocked, it will roll in a tight circle. The chicks are born with an innate fear of heights, so they don’t stray too near the edge.

razorbill with egg



At Bempton the guillemots tend lower down the cliff, sometimes getting together in nesting colonies on the larger ledges.



Kittiwakes can make use of the smallest ledges, building up a nest with seaweed and grass.


gannetsgannetsI just miss the perfect photo opportunity: six or seven gannets have landed on the cliff top to gather beak-fulls of grass; they’re just  yards away from a group of birdwatchers but by the time I’ve set up my camera they’ve all flown off again.

Link: RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve.




Rock Pool

rock pool

rock poolSouth Bay, Scarborough, 10.55 a.m., 75°F, 20°C in the sun but a breeze from the sea from the north north-east keeps it pleasant: At last I’ve found my way to a rock pool; I’ve never made it down to this end of South Bay at low tide before. I’m sitting on an outcrop of rock, the upper surface of which is covered in barnacles (but I’ve brought a folding foam pad, so I’m quite comfortable!). Dotted amongst them are limpets, some with small fronds of seaweed attached to the shell.

Scattered about there are winkles, some in crevices, others on exposed edges of the rock which are now in the full glare of the morning sun. The tide should cover them in the next couple of hours.

In this shallow rock pool, which is more like a rock puddle, a few tiny shrimp-like creatures occasionally dart out from beneath the channeled wrack. There’s a small tuft of reddish coralline seaweed in the middle of the pool.

Oliver’s Mount

Oliver's Mountwood pigeonWe’ve never climbed Oliver’s Mount which I sketch from Platform 3, Scarborough station. This afternoon we’ve still got brilliant sunshine with a breeze to cool you down: why are we leaving?!

grey geeseReturn journey: wood pigeons on the unused opposite platform at Seamer station; pair of geese by a farm pond, Vale of Pickering, 2 p.m..

Park Lake

gulls and tufted duckPeasholm Park, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, 12.25 p.m., 55°F, 13°C, 75% cumulus, breeze from north north-west: A pair of tufted ducks float by, ‘sleeping’ and preening.

A herring gull goes into its bathing routine: wings held out, it dips its head and spreads water over its back.

On the sunny side of the pagoda roof of the floating bandstand seventeen herring gulls are snoozing, all facing into the prevailing breeze.

High tide, North Bay, Scarborough.
High tide, North Bay, Scarborough.

Herring Gull Mating

  1. South Bay, near the lifeboat station, 3.30 p.m. (top of page, bottom right sketches): A herring gull is standing on the beach apparently just watching the world go by. It starts calling, the laughing cry that instantly conjures up a picture of a seaside town for me when I hear it in a radio play.gulls mating
  2. A   second gull flies down and the first calls at it as if in greeting, but perhaps with a degree of agitation – ‘and where have you been?!’. The second bird responds with a head nod.
  3. The pair see off a rival.
  4. There’s a mating, a successful mating, I guess. It’s the female who has been waiting on the beach.
  5. The female waggles her rear end. The male leaves first, then the female.

It reminds me of a 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards, featuring what were affectionately judged to be the worst ever movies. It included a close up of two sea gulls with the caption ‘One of the steamy love scenes from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.’

Bullfinches on Blossom

Church FentonDewsbury station, 9.45 a.m., 69°F, 20°C: As we wait for our train on platform 2, the south-east facing stone embankment is a sun trap this morning. A fresh looking peacock butterfly basks on the wall. large whiteOur first large whites, two of them, flutter over the blossoming shrubs. House sparrows chirrup and argue in the cover of the neatly trimmed laurel. A female blackbird disappears into a dense growth of ivy. She doesn’t seem to be plucking at berries so perhaps she has a nest hidden there. A wren sings lustily from the shrubs. peacockAbove, a grey squirrel climbs a eucalyptus, its grey green foliage contrasts with a clear, deep blue sky.

lapwingScarborough train, Church Fenton, 10.25 a.m.: The floods have subsided but some of the fields in the Vale of York are still sodden; three lapwings stand at the edge of a pool in a ploughed field. I glimpse a llama as we pass a farm.

dogs mercuryIn woodlands near Malton wood anemone is still in flower; there are pale yellow patches of primroses on the embankment; a few bluebells are starting to show and there’s lots of dogs mercury.

buzzard, Vale of Pickering

A heron stands in a marshy field; a buzzard flies over the Vale of Pickering. Cloud is building as we head to the coast.

Peasholm Park

bullfinch1.35 p.m., 45°F, 8°C, dropping cooler as it clouds over: Two bullfinches make a thorough job of nibbling the blossom buds on a small tree that overhangs the path in a quiet side valley in the woodland at Peasholm Park. I say quiet but a chaffinch sings an emphatically chirpy song, and a chiff-chaff is calling. Wood pigeon and great tit join in occasionally.

Marine Drive

redshank0416redshank4162.35 p.m., 50°F, 10°C, breeze from west north-west: A redshank sits out the high tide, perching on a boulder by the sea wall on Marine Drive, keeping its reddish bill tucked under its wing


Bladder Wrack

 bladder wrackWhen I picked up this piece of bladder wrack at Sandsend it looked fresh but it has dried out so much that I doubt it would plump up if I soaked it in water.

As I mention in the note, it has pairs of gas-filled bladders on either side of the midrib of the frond.

It is found in the middle of the intertidal zone on rocky shores.

Blast Furnace Slag

blast furnace slagblast furnace slagI picked up what I think is a piece of blast furnace slag from the beach at Sandsend last week. It looks a bit like a motorway chipping with the contrast of limestone fragments and black coating but the top surface is hard and pockmarked with bubbly holes, so this fragment has been subjected to intense heat.

There were ironstone workings at Sandsend.